Film director Christopher Nolan and artist Tacita Dean used a debate on Saturday at the BFI London Film Festival to warn of the "existential danger" facing the medium of film, due to poor cinema standards and the destruction of unwanted film prints.
Nolan, who directed Interstellar and the latest Batman trilogy, attacked multiplex culture for putting on digital copies even though real film was available: “For some reason it has become acceptable to say we are just providing this empty room with a TV in it for you to watch. Exhibition shouldn't work in such a way that they show the worst possible versions of a film until someone in the audience complains.
“The tone that’s crept into the dialogue is that it’s become acceptable for theatre owners and distributors to say ‘oh well it’s more expensive,’" he continued. "They expect the consumers to say ‘well fine’, but we’re paying the same for a ticket to the cinema as we were paying before, so where are all these marvellous savings?”
It was the closure of the Soho Film Lab in 2011 that made Dean become a campaigner and co-founder of savefilm.org. She says that for her, that was when the crisis felt like it was at its “most dangerous point”. The loss of that key processing facility made her realise "that film was in existential danger and I wouldn’t be able to make my work or even see it”.
Dean also drew attention to a facility near London that is “destroying huge quantities of prints. I’ve been there — it’s the most saddest place, just piles and piles of descored films which are being taken off and destroyed. These prints are not going to be made again so why are we destroying them? It’s like destroying library books.”
Nolan warned that if the culture did not “drastically improve” then people will stop wanting to go to the cinema.
The conversation took place at the BFI as part of its LFF Connects series at the BFI London Film Festival.
Watch these short films about the dying art of cinema projection.